Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Where to Look While Sailing Upwind

What does it mean when your coach tells you to get your head outside the boat? Where do top sailors actually look when they are sailing upwind?

This video made by the Laser Center at Cabarete gives a brand new insight into the answers to these questions. Featuring Laser sailor, Julio Alsogaray, winner of the 10th Caribbean Laser Midwinter Regatta - with commentary by the Laser Center at Cabarete head coach, Rulo Borojovich - you can at last see where a champion is looking in various phases of upwind sailing.

Rulo tell us that in the sprint after the start you need to focus on your boat speed and looking at such things as your telltales and the waves in front of you.

Once you pop out in front of the group (you always do, don't you?) you need to look around to see if you are on a header or a lift, and where the wind pressure is up the course. You constantly need to switch attention between the boat, the sail, the approaching waves, the sailing angles of the other boats, the windward mark and the clouds in the sky etc. etc. etc.

Hmmm. In the one minute of sailing by Julio in this video, I counted him switching attention from one place to another at least thirty times! Once every two seconds!

Speaking purely personally I know that one of my faults is spending too much time looking at the telltales on the sail to make sure I am not sailing too high or too low when sailing upwind. A coach recently told me to look forward, not at the telltales, and with experience I would learn to "feel" when I was pinching or stalling the sail, and be able to make adjustments without being so fixated on the telltales. I did try that in my last practice session, and I'm sure it's a good thing to do in practice - almost as good as sailing with your eyes closed - but the video of Julio demonstrates that top sailors are constantly flicking their eyes all over the place... the boat, the telltales, the waves in front, the pressure up the course, the other boats to right and left and behind, the leech, the sky, the windward mark... and repeat and repeat and repeat.

I wrote a post on this subject, Snap!, back in 2006. It was written after a race where I was so focused on boat speed that I didn't even notice that the wind was stronger on the other side of the course and I should have been heading over there for that better wind. I wrote about how I should have been taking "snapshots", switching attention every few seconds between all the variables. "Telltales look OK? Boat flat? What's the wind ahead doing? Where's the next puff? Am I being headed? Big picture wind - where is it strongest?"

Hmmm. So if I knew all that six years ago, why am I still not doing it consistently?

Good question!

Thanks Rulo for reminding me.


Baydog said...

To a lesser extent, I do that every time I sail. Having raced for so long, it's hard to shake those habits, and I find myself sometimes noticing the surroundings less when I'm just cruising with family and friends because I'm so concerned about the flippin' telltales. My wife says, "relax, we're not racing."

I'm always racing.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

When I raced Lasers on the ocean, going to weather, I immediately noticed how much I diverted my attention from wind guides to wind waves in front of my bow. I needed very much to get in sync with the water's surface. Get in the groove. Also, the seat of your pants was helpful, detecting changes in heel. I never had time for the big picture. WTF was that?

Tony said...

I just finished the Laser Masters Worlds. The guy who won my fleet, Matias, was able to recount every detail of each race once we got back to shore. Not just what happened to him but all of the boats around him as well - who got lifted or knocked, more or less pressure at which point of each race, even if they were on the other side of the course. He was watching everyone and everything the whole time, observing, processing, adapting, while still sailing fast. Amazing.

Tillerman said...

Yes, amazing.

But congratulations to Tony who, if I'm not mistaken, is the same Tony who was 2nd in the Full Rig Apprentice Masters fleet at the recent Laser Masters Worlds in Australia, and also the winner in that class at the Australian Masters sailed the week before.

Matias del Solar is, if I'm not mistaken (again), Chile's rep at the Olympic Games in the Laser class this year, and has already been to two Olympic Games. I'm not sure whether to congratulate him for still being able to qualify for the Olympics at the advanced age (for Laser sailors) of 36, or wonder whether we should consider raising the lower age limit for Laser Masters sailing (currently 35.) Isn't the Masters supposed to be for older sailors who can't compete with the young hotshots any more?

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